Both Palo Alto and Gunn High School will adopt Palo Alto Unified School District Supt. Max McGee’s recommendation to report both unweighted and weighted cumulative grade point averages on transcripts and exclude freshman courses from weighting.
The Board of Education voted unanimously late Tuesday night to accept the recommendation with a few amendments to language.
McGee’s recommendation includes reporting the weighted GPA on the Common Application. For now, “honors” courses are courses that are titled “honors” in the course catalog, but starting with the class of 2021, the recommendation states that the PAUSD must “develop a board approval process for designating courses as honors courses.”
Before the vote, Palo Alto community members addressed the board about their support for and opposition to the recommendation, concerns surrounding weighted GPAs in general and the proposal to forgo weighting freshman grades.
Several public commenters argued that the recommendation is unfair to freshman students who take honors classes alongside older students, and that students will potentially be more stressed with this new system.
“I appreciate your intention of easing student stress,” parent Peidi Chen said. “But I think removing extra points for honors will add extra stress and discourage students from taking challenging courses.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Gunn alumnus Shanik Durav said he believes weighting freshman GPA would lead to overloaded schedules and unwelcome consequences.
“When the majority of your peers are taking a class, there’s no greater extrinsic motivation than that kind of peer pressure,” Durav said. “If we were to weight freshman GPA we would essentially be codifying peer pressure. It’s one more block on that Jenga tower of academic exceptionalism …but that’s all it takes for everything to come crashing down.”
Though all board members voted in favor of the core recommendation, they disagreed on its freshman weighting aspect. Board members Jennifer DiBrienza, Ken Dauber and Terry Godfrey, and school board representatives Ankit Ranjan and David Tayeri opposed weighting freshman year grades.
“Our professionals feel freshman year is a time to focus on other stuff which I take very seriously,” DiBrienza said. “We are more than just a college prep district.”
Collins and Baten Caswell said that they support weighting freshman grades because it would encourage students to take risks and place them on the pathway to future honors courses. Collins added that he thinks the whole debate over weighted GPAs is tangential to the real issue at hand.
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do to actually address the sources of stress,” Collins said. “We’ve focused almost a year on [GPA] which to me seems a small part.”
The release of the latest Paly enrollment report for the 2017-18 school year prompted some speakers to voice concerns about perceived decreasing enrollment in elective classes in favor of weighted AP and honors classes. District parent Evan Lurie said he thinks that reporting weighted GPAs is the reason for the changes in enrollment requests.
“In regards to elective data, those numbers do not square with enrollment [size] of the incoming freshman class,” Lurie said. “The only other thing that’s changed is weighting grades.”
Changes to the original recommendation include adding the word “annually” at the end of the third point to submit requests for UC/CSU weighting approval on time and changing “approved process” to “approval process” in the second point for designating honors courses.